Every year, Florida State University’s College of Education spotlights extraordinary alumni during the Distinguished Alumni Awards. For more than 25 years, the College of Education has given out a number of awards to recognize work done in a number of fields. This year, the College gave out six awards across five categories, including K-12 Education, Business & Industry, Government and Community Service, Postsecondary Success, and the Trailblazer Award.
This year’s winners are Alyssa Carr (Trailblazer), Patricia Clements (Government and Community Service), Inez “Liz” Cohen (K-12 Education), Eddie Higginbotham IV (Trailblazer), M. Cay Holbrook (Postsecondary Systems), and Janet Pilcher (Business & Industry).
The first part of our series spotlights Eddie Higginbotham IV, Alyssa Carr, and Inez “Liz” Cohen.
How did the College of Education prepare you for your career?
Eddie Higginbotham IV (Trailblazer Award): The College of Education’s emphasis on an intentionally designed curriculum and on holistic and practical experiences was paramount in setting me up for success in my career from the start. My time in the College of Education influenced me to view excellence as a standard and starting point and reinforce the value of hard work that left no space for mediocrity. It made me a strategic thinker, critical consumer of information, and most importantly, trained me to have and seek a heighten level of consciousness and awareness of myself, the people and issues around me, and my ability to make a positive impact in meaningful and productive ways. Ultimately, the College of Education has given me an upper-hand and point of view in my work that makes me a valuable and active contributor to the teams I work alongside and tables at which I sit.
Alyssa Carr (Trailblazer Award): The college helped prepare me to become a teacher through coursework and networking. The courses were full of practical and theoretical pedagogical knowledge that was vital to my future as an educator; I not only knew how to handle various situations in my classroom, but knew why to handle them that way. The connections made with other future educators, as well as the various professors, have helped me grow throughout the years and provided me with many opportunities to take on leadership role.
Inez “Liz” Cohen (K-12 Education): The coursework and internships fully prepared me for my career in education which has spanned four decades.
What was your favorite class at the College of Education?
Carr: I would have to say the classes that I enjoyed the most were the courses designed for teaching teachers how to teach English (British Literature for English Teachers and American Literature for English Teachers). They were classes where I was not just learning to apply best practices to my content area, but seeing and directing practicing teaching strategies I would one day directly apply in my classroom.
Inez: My favorite class in COE was Educational Psychology. It was a fascinating eye-opener about human learning which is a key component to understanding student performance.
Higginbotham IV: [My two favorite classes] were Student Development Theories taught by Dr. Brad Cox and Diversity in Higher Education taught by Dr. Tamara Bertrand Jones. As someone who aspired to advocate for and impact the lives of college students, these classes gave me an inside look at the development, commonalities, differences, and complexities of this population in palpable ways. In both courses, we were not prompted to memorize and regurgitate the material, yet see ourselves in it which allowed up to connect with the content while making meaning of our own experiences and development. This not only reinforced the material, but brought it to life. While impacting our own self authorship, the classes also inspired us to see outside of ourselves and seek to understand, give grace, practice patience, and gain added perspectives about those we work with and for who may be different than us. In that, helping us remember that everyone is still growing, learning, and developing – including ourselves.
Did you have a favorite professor? If so, who?
Inez: My favorite professor was Dr. Simmons. Dr. Simmons was not only my professor, he was also my advisor. He was passionate about the Teacher Education Program and he maintained high standards for his students.
Carr: The most influential person was actually my advisor, now Dr. Katie Rybakova Matthews. She eventually taught classes, but as my advisor she helped me take full advantage of my final two years in the program. With her advisement and encouragement, I presented at FSU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, was the president of FSU’s affiliate with National Council of Teachers of English, and took graduate level courses. I was more prepared and confident thanks to Katie.
Higginbotham IV: The simple and truthful answer is all of them. Everyone represented the best in their respective fields, functional areas, and research pursuits. We got to be around, get to know, learn from some of the nation’s leading and up-and-coming scholars, innovators, and practitioners, in both full-time as well as adjunct faculty. For that I am forever grateful. Those are the intangible things that you get out of the College of Education that are not in books and cannot be replicated. It is the opportunity to witness dynamic and invested faculty who are living their passions every day, modeling the way in large and small actions, and empowering their students by simply being themselves, investing in us in genuine ways, and doing what they are called to do. This type of conviction and inspiration is contagious and second-to-none, producing graduates who are just as convicted and inspired to face the challenge of our time.
Can you offer any advice for current students?
Higginbotham IV: Take advantage of all of the opportunities afforded to you in the College of Education to build your network and brand - your reputation and career starts now. Be intentional with course assignment and practical experiences – seek to gain new knowledge and skills that stretch you and add to your repertoire. Practice gratitude always (even when it’s hard) - you are extremely fortunate to even have the opportunity to be able to pursue higher education, let alone do it at one of the best schools in the nation. Reflect often to help make meaning of your experiences and to see things from different perspectives – this will help you find your purpose. Be connected to yourself and to the higher calling that inspires you to do what you do – this will help you find your conviction.
Inez: The college experience is a juggling act, but time-management is the remedy for coping with so many responsibilities and expectations. Great jugglers know how to balance and you can, too, by creating a time-management plan which includes studying activities, extra-curricular activities and fitness activities.
Carr: Take advantage of everything COE has to offer and always ask for more opportunities. There are so many resources and programs to get involved in, but you need to advocate for yourself. Show you are interested and get into as many classrooms as you can to observe and ask questions. Fully commit to the profession because your future students will always need 100% of your dedication.